Life after Leo, part I: needs

Originally published on June 4, 2015

6.4.15

A few nights ago at bedtime, each boy needed something: Leo, crying, needed to be put to sleep, Jay, badgering me at my elbow, needed to watch highlights from a basketball game, Wally, jumping up and down on his bed, needed…something, though I couldn’t say exactly what.

When I think about the six months since Leo was born, these are the kinds of scenes that come to mind. The number of children in our house increased by 50 percent, but it has felt like the number of needs has increased by much more than that.

Many are simple needs: pour this, wipe that, change my shirt, find my ball, flip Leo onto his back again. This morning I was trying to pour Jay a bowl of mini-wheats at the same moment he was asking me to help him sound out “nightgown,” at the same time Wally was in the pantry asking me, “What’s this box?” (Answer: old formula.) It was enough to instigate a light compressing sensation on the surface of my skull.

These kinds of needs are tiring to fulfill, but they’re straightforward and just take stamina. I know if I “wipe that” enough times, eventually he’ll start wipe it himself.

It’s the other kinds of needs that have been trickier. These are needs for attention and emotional sorting-out. And I think of these needs as falling into two categories: Needs where the solution is obvious, but difficult to implement, and needs where even the solution is not clear.

Needs related to time and attention have been easy to diagnose, but harder to meet. The most obvious complication of adding a new child is that it makes it harder to carve out one-on-one time with the ones you already have. We’ve taken some steps. Caroline has gone on weekend lunch dates with Jay, usually to Chipotle. On Thursdays during the (just concluded) school year, Jay would stay after school for woodworking class. We’d take that opportunity to spend some extra time with Wally. One day he and I went to the hardware story to get a bolt for his broken-down bike. Another, we made banana bread. More often, Caroline or I would just sit with him in the playroom or on the front stoop while he played cars.

Even still, days can go by where I feel like I don’t have much individual interaction with Jay or Wally. I herd them to dinner, herd them into the bath, or I keep an ear out while they play basketball together in one room and I make breakfast in another.

Finally, there are the needs which are glaring, but hard to decipher and harder to solve. They have expressed themselves as tantrums at mealtimes, pushing on the playground, and manic jumping around before bedtime. More than once, Caroline and I have said to each other: These boys need something from us, but what? We can’t make Leo go away, we can’t add hours to the day. Often, there’s seemed to be no way to leaven their present anguish.

This has been especially true for Wally. At times, I’ve felt that Leo was a particularly cruel thing to inflict on him. I’ve watched Wally pretend, night after night, to be a baby chick/pteranodon/bear/alligator being birthed from beneath his covers. I’ve appreciated how hard it must be to find yourself displaced in a stroke as the baby of the family.

Time has helped a lot. There are still plenty of moments where I look around the house and all I see are needs, but the addition of Leo feels much less jarring than it used to. Jay and Wally are moving closer to the day they won’t be able to remember life before Leo. Caroline and I have mostly found a plan that accommodates the extra steps we need to take between waking and sleeping each day.

In September, three months before Leo was born, I concluded a post with the image of a child—the boy who would be Leo—running to catch a ship before it clears the headlands. Today I have a different boat image in mind. Leo’s aboard, and for six months we’ve been accelerating, bow up, hard through the waves. Now there’s a welcome sense of leveling off.

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